Playing an instrumental role in St Mirren’s superb 2-0 Scottish Cup win over Scottish Premier League side Dundee in his first game for Jack Ross’ men, earning a place in the SPFL team of the week in the process, as well as winning over the club’s ardent fans after just a few weeks in Scotland, young Welsh goalkeeper Billy O’Brien has made quite the impact so far in his first few weeks on loan at St. Mirren.
St Mirren v The New Saints
THE IRN-BRU CUP - SEMI-FINAL
- Sunday, 19 February 2016
- Paisley 2021 Stadium
- Kick off: 4:10pm
- Live on S4C from 3:45pm
Ever-present between the sticks for Wales’ intermediate sides, named captain this season for Manchester City’s reserve side, Bury-born O’Brien made the move to the Scottish Championship this winter as he seeks to help the club escape relegation come the end of the season.
A host of clubs were interested in acquiring the 20-year-old’s services next summer, but the buzz of being involved in a fight – in the shot stopper’s own words – as well as the high-pressure environment of first-team football in a very competitive league, made it a no-brainer for O’Brien to make the move to St Mirren Park last month.
“This move has been everything I expected and more to be honest with you,” O’Brien told FAW.Cymru. “I had a taste of first team football when on loan at Hyde in the Vanarama Conference North, I was only 17 years old but to be put into such a competitive environment, there was no better feeling than that when it came to three o’clock on a Saturday afternoon.
“I was recalled early by City because they had a few injuries, which I was gutted about to be honest, so I’ve really missed that feeling but I’ve got that back coming up here, it’s brilliant and I love that competitive environment. The club isn’t where we want it to be, but we’re in a situation where we need to win games and I love that, so hopefully we can get a few good results in the weeks to come.
“We’ve got a couple of cup games coming up, but there’s a lot of league games left too and they’re all going to be like cup finals for us because we’re desperate to climb the table; we need to win games if we want to stay in this league, but we’ve got a great group of players here and I can’t wait to get on with the rest of the season.”
The pressure of football at the highest level is clearly something O’Brien relishes, so perhaps it should be of no surprise that after signing for the Saints only two days and one training session before making his debut in a huge Scottish Cup clash, that the goalkeeper’s performance would see him go on and make the SPFL’s team of the week.
I’ve seen how well they’ve done this year and the last few seasons and we’re in no doubt that this is going to be a very tough game for us against a side who have been demolishing whoever they’ve come up against.
It was a sparkling performance between the sticks from the young man, on a day that he hailed as perfect, but O’Brien also heaped praise on his manager for helping him settle into the club so quickly.
“We were playing against Dundee away – not an easy place to go to – so to go there, get a clean sheet and a win in the Scottish Cup against a team who can beat any SPFL side on their day, and on my debut too – it was brilliant! I arrived on the Thursday, trained on the Friday then that happened on the Saturday, so it was perfect. I prefer that though, to be thrown in the deep end, but there’ll be plenty more fights to come.
“I think the manager’s man-management skills are brilliant – just to be treated as well as we are by him says everything about the man. The position we’re in isn’t ideal, we know that, but he keeps us buzzing, he keeps us happy, he’s a really nice bloke and very approachable, but he gave me a very nice welcome when I was signing. He’s a great manager, his training sessions are really good and he’s got us all believing that we can make a real push for survival in this league.”
Facing O’Brien this weekend will be Craig Harrison’s TNS side as they head to St Mirren Park to contest the Irn Bru Scottish Challenge Cup Semi-final – an enormous game for both sides, but a positive result for St Mirren could be of particular importance, according to the young Welshman.
“I’ve seen how well they’ve done this year and the last few seasons and we’re in no doubt that this is going to be a very tough game for us against a side who have been demolishing whoever they’ve come up against this season – they’ll definitely bring their A-game on the day, but we’re all really excited for it.
“Every footballer wants to win things, that goes without saying, but these next few weeks could be huge for us with two cup games coming up and fighting for our place in the league, it could define our season really, so we’re really looking forward to what’s ahead and doing everything we can for the club.”
It has been a defining period recently for young Welsh talent, as O’Brien is just one of many who have gone on to make their first-team debuts at respective clubs, and the stopper is adamant that if they all keep fighting then they could find themselves in Wales’ senior squad soon enough.
“There’s a lot of fight there and a lot of lads who are working so hard and would be honoured by getting their first caps for Wales. We’re all doing everything we can to try and get in there and if we keep progressing then we’ve got a good chance of getting in there and showing what we can do.
“It’d mean everything for me to get in there, but that squad is very strong every time they get together, so all I can do is keep trying my best and it’s been proven over the years that if you’re Welsh and playing well enough then you will get your chance, so I’ll keep working hard to get mine and see what happens.”